Journeys: Harboring A Cold-Blooded Killer

  • Karen Cakebread

Before the murderer showed up, L’Anse au Pigeon was a peaceful and prosperous place on the shores of an inlet of Quirpon Island, home to a handful of fishermen and their families. But in 1929, life in the village was upended, according to Earl Pilgrim’s book Curse of the Red Cross Ring (Flanker Press, 2002), an account of the events at “the Pigeon” that year and of Sod Mugford (a pseudonym) and his trail of mayhem.
 
Mugford, a notorious drunkard, fled from the mainland to the island after poisoning a schoolteacher who had struck his brother. He came to Quirpon because it was isolated from the rest of Newfoundland and because his estranged wife and children were living at L’Anse au Pigeon. When Azariah Roberts, the town’s leader and the author’s grandfather, eventually discovered Mugford’s secret, Roberts decided to banish him from the island and made plans to place him on a freighter that was scheduled to pass offshore on December 26, 1929. However, Mugford thought he faced imprisonment, not banishment. Prior to the freighter’s arrival, when four island men enlisted him to assist on an errand to the mainland, he boarded their boat carrying an extra gas can. The group set off on the morning of December 24 and never returned.
 
A fishing crew discovered the boat two months later, its inside blackened and a hole burned through the hull. Then, in June of 1930, another crew of fishermen hauled up the corpse of one of the missing men: Happy Tucker, Roberts’ best friend. Tucker’s jacket was burned, and a rope was wrapped around the body.

Although Mugford’s act significantly reduced L’Anse au Pigeon’s population, the settlement was not abandoned until 1943, shortly after Az Roberts’ death. With the passing of Roberts, who died three months after his son did, and the murders of Tucker and his companions, no fishermen remained who knew how to set the cod traps that provided the community’s livelihood.

Pilgrim’s book has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide and remains a perennial best-seller at the Quirpon Lighthouse Inn, which does not surprise the inn’s owner, Ed English. “[Imagine] storm watching in the fall,” he says. “A remote island in the North Atlantic, sitting in the indoor whale-watching station as the spray hits, reading about the mass murder/suicide that happened in the cove—what better way to relax?”

Photo by James Lipman
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